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Posted by David Reed on 06/20/2020

LaGuardia Airport

The site of LaGuardia Airport was originally the Gala Amusement Park, owned by the Steinway family of Steinway Piano fame. In 1929 the Steinways took down the park and turned it into a private airport called the Glenn H. Curtiss Airport, and later the North Beach Airport. Meanwhile, Fiorello LaGuardia gave up his congressional seat and in 1934 he became the mayor of his hometown of New York City. He was very popular, progressive mayor who loved his city like no other. He also had a close friend in Franklin D. Roosevelt who saw to it that federal funding was readily available for LaGuardia's projects. In his first year in office, Mayor LaGuardia wanted to improve the transportation infrastructure in New York, and he strongly believed New York should have it's own airport. He took a TWA flight to New York and it landed at Newark. He refused to get off, saying his ticket showed New York, not New Jersey. TWA flew him to Floyd Bennett Field and the mayor gave a rousing speech announcing his intent to build a New York airport for New Yorkers. Studies were undertaken, but the mayor felt Floyd Bennett was too far away. Instead, the city bought the Steinway's airport on 558 acres and began construction in 1937. A lot of earth was moved from Rikers Island and other locations and built atop metal framework to create the runways they would need. Work moved quickly and in 1938 American Airlines took out a long term lease on buildings 1,3 & 5 to become their new maintenance base and home office. New York City Municipal Airport opened for business on December 2, 1939 when a TWA DC-3 landed there. Included in the airport was the Marine Air Terminal, or Overseas Terminal. PanAm used it for their Boeing Clipper 314's. In March 1940 the first Clipper 314 departed for Lisbon.

In 1947 Mayor LaGuardia passed away from cancer. The New York/New Jersey Port Authority signed a 50-year lease to run the airport and renamed it LaGuardia Airport. 

Originally, the airport had four runways, but it was reduced to the current two runways, 13/31 and 4/22. They were expanded in 1965 to 7000' and haven't changed since. LaGuardia Airport has had it's share of problems. The landfill was constantly settling and required many reconstruction projects. Even today, the old metal structure at the approach end of runway 13 still causes issues with aircraft navigation systems. Noise has always been a problem for local residents. Early on, airlines found the runways too short for transcontinental flights and moved those to Idlewild and Newark. Jets needed long runways, so it wasn't until 1964 when the first jet, a United 727-100 flight to Cleveland and Chicago, departed LaGuardia. The airport was popular with passengers though, which led to perpetual overcrowding and lengthy flight delays. A new central terminal was built in 1964, just in time for the nearby NY World's Fair. Who occupied the terminals changed often. Eastern's Terminal C operations went to Continental after the merger, but Continental had no plans for expanding at LGA so they leased it to USAirways. Terminal D was shared by Delta and Northwest until Delta bought NWA, and acquired Terminal C gates from US Airways, making LaGuardia a Delta Airlines hub. In 1991 Delta bought the Marine Air Terminal from PanAm and today operates Washington and Chicago flights from there.

In an effort to spread airline service among the three major New York airports, the Port Authority limited LaGuardia flights to 1500 nm in 1984, with Denver being the only exception. Wide bodies have used LaGuardia, including L1011 and DC10 aircraft, but performance restrictions brought an eventual end to that. Today the largest aircraft scheduled to LGA is a Delta 757, though occasionally a 767 is substituted. The largest operator today is Delta with 41% of the flights, followed by American with 25% and Southwest with 9%. To help alleviate long delays, landing and departure "slots" were allocated by the FAA. The figure varies depending on the hour, but a maximum of 71 slots per hour is the current figure for scheduled operations, and three per hour for unscheduled operations.

Today the airport is undergoing major modification and construction, scheduled to be completed in 2021. It promises to bring LaGuardia a new lease on life for many years to come.

 


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